Monday, March 31, 2008

Endings and beginnings

The children here at the church have just finished their program. This curriculum, called Jesús al Rescate (Jesus to the rescue) is what they have been working on for the past 5 months. The program included 5 stations which focused on a specific story, showing how God, through Jesus, comes to our rescue. Each story was studied from different aspects of the story for 5 weeks. The same Bible verse was reinforced for each of those 5 weeks to ensure that the children learned it and to allow it to really sink in.

Yesterday, the children who participated in all 5 stations were presented with their certificates. The new curriculum will begin next Sunday.

The newest member of the family

Meet Guita!! She is my new little pet turtle. She was given to me Friday by a friend from the church. Patricia wants to learn English, so we agreed to help each other with language learning. I went to her house to help her practice English and she was helping me with my Spanish. While there, she showed me her two new little pets- two baby turtles. These turtles were given to her by a relative whose turtles had babies. These babies are only one month old. While I was there, she decided that it’s too lonely for me to be by myself and that I needed a companion, so she gave me one of her precious little turtles.

Guita (short for Tortuguita- which means "little turtle" in Spanish) has been an interesting addition to my apartment. She likes to walk around in the small area of grass outside. She eats fruits, bread, cake, anything. In this picture, she is eating guava. She does not really like lettuce. She is less than 4 inches in length and can fit in the palm of my hand. It will be fun to watch her grow during my time here in Maracaibo.

Blender blunders and breakthroughs

One of the fun things about living in a foreign country, especially in the tropics, is experimenting with the new foods, especially tropical fruits. One of my friends strongly recommended that I bring a blender with me to Venezuela. I’ve never owned a blender before and had no idea what I would even do with it, but he was insistent that I bring one, so I did. Venezuelans make fresh juice from the local tropical fruits here almost daily. I have had fun trying to make juice in my new blender, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

One of my favorite tropical fruits is pineapple. Pineapples here are much sweeter than we get in Ohio (imported). I love pineapple juice, which I have had here before several times. I thought, how hard can this be to make pineapple juice? I was told that you just cut up the pineapple into small pieces, add water and a little sugar, and blend. When I tried this, all I got was lumpy, mashed up pineapple with a little juice. When I tried adding more water, it then looked a little more like juice (but very thick) and tasted very watery. This was proving more difficult than I thought. Ok, so no success with the pineapple. What about other fruits.

The next one was guava. Directions: peel the guava, cut it up, put it in the blender with water and sugar, and blend. Same directions as the pineapple. So, I tried it again. This time, I got something that more closely resembled juice, although still a bit thick. It actually tasted somewhat close to the guava juice I have had here, so I was semi-pleased. Mediocre success.

The next one was watermelon. Now, how hard can this be… it’s almost all water anyway! I don’t know if you have ever had watermelon juice. I had never had it until I came here, but I really liked it, so I thought, why not try it. Directions: Peel the watermelon (remove the rind), cut up, add a little water and sugar, and blend (yes, this is getting repetitive). Ok, I tried this one, and guess what… SUCCESS! It actually turned out like juice. I was excited. I really liked it. This is going to be a favorite.

Ok, the last one I have tried so far… Parchita juice (Passion fruit). Parchita or passion fruit, is a citrus fruit. It has a thick peel like an orange, but you do not peel it. Inside of the rind are many medium sized black seeds surrounded by yellow goo and a little bit of juice. Directions for making juice: Cut open the parchita, scoop out the goo and seeds into blender, add water, blend, strain with a strainer, add sugar and stir. Ok, so this one is a bit different, but guess what… SUCCESS!! It turned out just like I’ve tried in people’s houses or at restaurants. This is probably my new favorite juice.

It is really neat to see all the different fruits that God put on this planet. The people living here in the tropics have been blessed by all that God has put here for their enjoyment. I know that they take this luxury for granted because they have it here all the time, but I thank God for small pleasures of living in the tropics.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Drama in the children's ministry

Thats right, there has been some drama taking place in the children's ministry lately. The drama I am speaking of is a theatrical drama that some of the children performed on Resurrection Sunday for the rest of the children who attended church. These kids came several times to the church over the last 2 weeks to rehearse this drama and arrived to church at 7:30 on Sunday morning to prepare. The drama displayed the events of the morning when Jesus rose from the grave.
All of the children who came to church were able to watch this drama presentation. Afterwards, they went to their classrooms where the drama was explained and enrichment activities occurred. There was a small model of the empty tomb in each of the classrooms and it was used to demonstrate to the children that JESÚS RESUCITÓ.

Our Actors

The children who came to see the drama unfold on Resurrection Sunday.

Crying at the foot of the cross.

The soldiers guarding the tomb are frightened away.

Jesus lives!!

Semana Santa and Resurrection Sunday

This past week has been a holiday week here. They do not have spring break, but they do get a break for Semana Santa (Holy Week). Some people take the whole week off, although officially, the holiday is Thursday and Friday. There were activities in the churches this week (Christian and Catholic). From Thursday through Sunday, just about everything was closed. Schools, businesses, grocery stores, banks, etc. There was very little traffic on the streets, which is really rare here in the city. There were no people walking around. Everyone went to the beach or the pool.

Easter here is a time for 2 things... religious activities and/or vacation. There are no such things as Easter eggs, Easter bunnies, etc. here. When I think about it, it really shows me the secularism that has crept into the most important time of the year for us as Christians, the time when we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. The enemy will do anything to take our minds away from Christ, and sometimes he uses things that seem so innocent and so common to us. The lack of commercial and secular distractions this Easter helped me to focus on the true reason we celebrate Resurrection Sunday.

Apartment updates...

I have been living in my new apartment for 2 weeks now. Suitcases are mostly unpacked (still have a few things that I just don't know where to put, so for now they are staying in the suitcases). I have started purchasing some pieces of needed furniture and items. My dining room table and chairs were ordered and will be delivered in about a month. A few other needed items were purchased. A few are still being searched out.

I have finally got my keys figured out. In case you didn't know, doors work differently here than they do in the United States. To lock the door, you need to turn the key completely around 3 times. In this process, it double locks the 4 deadbolts that secure the door.

I am getting used to having the sun wake me up early (although sometimes the blanket goes over my head at 6:15am when the sun comes up. This morning was a bit cloudy so I didn't see the sun until around 7:30 or so.

I still do not have internet at my apartment, it will be ordered soon (hopefully). Once I have it, I will once again have access to my Ohio phone number.

I would like to invite you to come see my apartment. So, please come by and visit me in Maracaibo. See ya soon!!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Long time, no see...

I know it has been a while since I have updated the blog. I have not had internet for the past 2 weeks. But don't worry, I have been keeping track of what has been happening and will be posting more soon. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Important new discovery

While I am still unpacking and getting everything situated in my new apartment, I did spend the night there for the first time last night. This morning, I made a very important new discovery...

My bedroom window faces directly due East!! And my blinds are not very dark. I think I know how I will be waking up every morning- God will be waking me up with His beautiful sunrise!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Venezuela in the News

I know that Venezuela has been in the news a lot lately. The latest was a political incident between Venezuela and Colombia. President Chávez sent troops to the border and had been talking about a possible war with Colombia.

I know that many people were concerned for my well-being here during this time. I want to assure you that everything is ok here right now. I never once saw any military units on the move and there was no change to daily life here in Maracaibo. If it wasn't for the news, we would not have realized anything was going on.

Yesterday, I saw a small political march. Chavistas (people who support Chávez) were marching through the streets, shouting, "uh, ah, Chávez no se va" (oo, ah, Chávez isn't going). This is the same chant I heard from Chavistas in 2004 during the recall election when the people tried to have Chávez removed from office. This was the first political march I have seen this year. It was peaceful. They made a lot of noise (yelling and beating drums), but that was it.

I know that the political situation in Venezuela can be very unstable at times, but I am not worried. I know that God is in control. God, for some reason only He knows, has permitted Chávez to be the President of Venezuela. I know that God will take care of everything and that nothing is a surprise to Him. Therefore, I am not worried. I do ask for your continued prayers, because prayer is the most important thing we have. I trust that the God who sent me here will keep me safe here, but I ask that you please continue to ask God for His protection, not only over me, but over all the people of this beautiful country.

Monday, March 10, 2008

On the move again...

Moving Day!!

Today I packed my suitcases yet again. However, this time, I will be able to unpack them. I am finally moving into my own apartment. I will once again have my own place to live.

I have been living out of a suitcase for the past 9 months. If you have gone on vacation and were tired of living out of a suitcase after a week, try doing it for 9 months. It's not easy. Was it worth it? Yes.

All of my suitcases were taken to my apartment tonight and I will be there starting tomorrow. I have nothing here at the house I've been staying at (and about 5 minutes ago realized that I don't even have my toothbrush here.)

It is exciting to be on my own here and to finally be settled, to finally feel like I live here. It's a little scary being completely on my own in Venezuela for the first time.

Please pray that this new adjustment will go well and that I can make good interactions with my new neighbors.

A busy weekend

As I promised, I would update you on the busy weekend we had here.

On Saturday, we had to go to the airport to pick up Edda. She is from Caracas and she works as a go-between to process the Visa and passport paperwork for people. We picked her up in the morning, took her to her hotel and had a pre-meeting meeting with her to discuss what she will be talking to the team about and to get an update on the process of how the Visa applications will work. We grabbed a quick lunch and went to the team meeting, which started at "4:00pm" (4:30ish would be more accurate). The meeting lasted until 10:30 pm. Everyone on the team got to discuss their application with Edda and we were also processing the paperwork for the church. Lots of paperwork and logistic details. (In other words, I got a ton of homework from this meeting, having to sort through paperwork.) After the meeting, we went out for a late dinner and then drove home. I arrived home at 12:30 or 1am.

I woke up on Sunday morning before 7am to get ready for church. I was told we were leaving by 7:30, so I figured we would be out the door sometime around 8. We left at 8:25. I was at church for my usual 6 hours, leaving sometime between 2:30 and 3pm. Church services were packed and we had even more children for the second service than usual. I worked in the class for 4-6 year olds, where there were 45 children and 1 teacher. We had serveral children on the floor because of a lack of seats. The room is not big enough to accomodate that many children but we had no other choice. It was a crazy time and I don't think the children actually learned anything. Edda came to church and said she enjoyed it. She is Catholic and believes strongly in the Virgin Mary. We were praying for her that she might hear the truth and understand. After church, we went to lunch and were there until around 6pm. Afterwards, I came home and crashed. I was exhausted.

Sometimes I wonder why God brought me here. I know the work that I am supposed to be doing, but I know that God sometimes has other plans beyond those. I sometimes wonder if I am making a difference for the Kingdom of God. Only God knows for sure. However, on Sunday, before one of the services, a man came up to me. He knows me because I was presented to the church when I arrived, but I don't know him. He told me that he had been talking with his mother about me and that I am a really inspiration for him. He told me that he knows it must have been really hard to leave my home and my family and everything I know to move to a place that is completely different- different home, different culture, different language, different church. He said he was proud of me and the work that I am doing for God. This was really an encouragement for me.

I may not know everything that God has planned for me here, but that's ok. I will keep on working for Him anyway. After all, what greater work is there in the world than to work for The One who created the world?

Friday, March 7, 2008

One step closer...

Today, I was given the keys to my apartment, all 8 of them, plus the remote for the gate for the car I don't have. We went to my apartment to try the keys to see if they work and discovered that they had delivered my new bed, dresser, mirror, and night stand. I have been given the ok to move on Monday.

This weekend promises to be busy. We have our next meeting for Misión Ohio tomorrow, where those who are planning on going on the mission trip will be turn in their deposits and applications. We also have a person coming in from Caracas to discuss the Visa application process for those who need a visa.

Sunday will be spent at church for half of the day, then packing and doing an inventory of the items already in my apartment.

I will update you later how this weekend goes. :-)

Bible Study in the park

Yesterday, I went to a Bible study with Michelle, the girl whose family I'm staying with. There were 4 other people there from the church and several college students from the local college. The study was held outdoors at the park adjacent to the lake. The topic of the day was relationships.

While I did not understand everything that was being said, I did get the general idea. During the study and discussion, a man who was selling cepillados (a snow cone in a cup with sweetened condensed milk poured on top) stopped and listened in. He even contributed a little to the conversation and discussion.

After the discussion, we had a time of prayer. The cepillado seller joined us in the prayer. Afterwards, he asks many questions about prayer, as did 2 of the other guys at the meeting. As explained to them, prayer is talking to God. It is not a memorized speech that you learn that sounds nice. It is talking with God, telling Him how you feel about Him, telling Him of your needs, how you need Him in your life, praising Him and thanking Him for the blessings He has given, and interceeding for others by asking God to help them. After this explanation, each person said a prayer request that they had and then we prayed again, thanking God for His many blessings and lifting up the needs that we had.
Afterwards, many people from the study bought a cepillado and someone bought one for me. It was my first experience with these. The ice, in the past, would have made me sick. Whenever you find yourself in Venezuela AND HAVE ADJUSTED TO THE WATER, make sure you try a cepillado.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Creative use of resources

The Venezuelans are very conscious about their appearance. Cleanliness is important, as is the way you look and the way you present yourself. So, what do you do when you are supposed to be at a Bible study at 10:30 am and you wake up to find that there is no water in the apartment and it wont be turned on til noon??? You get creative, that's what you do. And that is what I did.

I took advantage of my "resources" and did what any person from Northeast Ohio would do when in the tropics during the first week of March... I went swimming. I figured the water in the pool could at least get me somewhat cleaned off (although I didn't think they would appreciate it if I brought my shampoo to the pool). After "bathing" in the pool, I used a glass of water from the fridge to take care of the final cleaning touch-ups.

You do what you have to do when you have to do it. Swimming might not be the ideal way to bathe, but it sure is the fun way!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Regaining stability

I just returned from seeing my new apartment for the first time. I am excited. I like the apartment. It's small but not too small. It has a brand new stove, refridgerator, and 2 new air conditioners. It's located in a good neighborhood. It's not really close to the church, but it's not super far either.

The church administrator said she will tell me when the paperwork is finished. I have no idea how long this will take, but I am now a step closer to living on my own here.

The thing I like about this is the fact that I will be regaining a little bit of stability in my life. I have been living with someone, mostly out of a suitcase or two, since June of last year, when I moved out of my apartment. It is hard to constantly live out of a suitcase. It is hard not having a place of your own.

It will be really good to unpack the suitcases and be able to put them away for a while.

The apartment building

The entrance to the building

My living room (It came with the couches!)

My bedroom (They will be bringing a bed and a mirror)

The Kitchen